Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

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Team of the Week: St. Louis Billikens

It’s no longer in dispute: St. Louis is the best team in the Atlantic 10. They proved it this week. After blowing out a good VCU team in Chaifetz Arena on Tuesday, St. Louis went into Hinkle Fieldhouse and knocked off Butler on Friday night. It was their second win over the Bulldogs this season; earlier this month they also blew out Brad Stevens’ club in St. Louis.

The Billikens now hold sole possession of first-place in the conference with just four games left in the regular season. They’ve won nine straight games and 18 of their last 20, a stretch that just so happens to coincide with the passing of their former coach, Rick Majerus. The four-point win at Butler was the first time since January 23rd that St. Louis didn’t win by double figures. It’s been an unreal turnaround for St. Louis, a team that was 3-3 in November with losses to Washington and Santa Clara.

There’s nothing flashy about this group. They defend, they execute offensively, they don’t beat themselves, they do everything that typical sportswriters love to turn into a cliche.

Teams deserving a shout out:

Ohio State: The Buckeyes put together their most important week of the season by knocking off both Minnesota and Michigan State at home. The win over the Spartans was extra impressive when you consider that Deshaun Thomas was just 4-16 from the floor. The Buckeyes still don’t have a road win more impressive than at Nebraska, but they can now claim victory over four teams in the RPI top 25.

Georgetown: The Hoyas took over sole possession of first place in the Big East thanks to their win at Syracuse and Marquette’s loss at Villanova. Otto Porter is currently the runaway favorite to be the Big East Player of the Year and now has an outside shot at winning the National Player of the Year award. This is all happening less than two months after the Hoyas were throughly embarrassed by Pitt in the Verizon Center as they struggled to break 40 points on a nightly basis. What an unreal turnaround.

Indiana: Indiana took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten when they beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Tuesday, and they all-but won the Big Ten regular season title when the Spartans lost at Ohio State on Sunday. The Hoosiers still have a trio of tough games left, but they currently hold a two game lead over the rest of the conference with four to play.

New Mexico: The Lobos are in the same position as Indiana after Kendall Williams led them to a win at Colorado State on Saturday afternoon. They hold a two game lead in the MWC standings over the Rams with just four games left on their league schedule.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are back! After beating Vanderbilt in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win in Rupp, Kentucky came out on Gameday and knocked off Missouri to pick up a win they absolutely needed to get if they are going to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. More importantly, however, the Kentucky roster finally lived up to their talent level. Archie Goodwin played his best basketball of the season in the second half against Mizzou. Alex Poythress looked like a lottery pick for the first time in more than a month. Willie Cauley-Stein looked like he could be an adequate replacement for Nerlens Noel. Ryan Harrow didn’t looked scared. We’ll see where this leads UK, but they are certainly in a better spot than they were after last Saturday.

They were good too: Cal, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Temple, Villanova

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jerred Shayok will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

Porter, Jr. will ask for Washington release

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There may be an overwhelming assumption on where Michael Porter, Jr. – and his father – will ultimately end up, but the five-star recruit is said publicly that he see his re-recruitment process through.

Porter, Jr. said in a teleconference Wednesday that he will ask for his release from Washington, and his father, a former Huskies assistant, has been offered a job at Missouri by new Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Right now I’m just trying to take it slow with my family and weigh my options,” Porter Jr. said, according to the Kansas City Star. “I plan to get my (national letter of intent) from Washington back and just go from there, not saying that I’m not going to Washington anymore, but I just want to get it back and weigh my options.”

The prevailing thought has been that the Porters will ultimately land in Columbia, where they have significant history.

Still, it would appear at least publicly that Porter, Jr., a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, will weigh his options in at least the short-term.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.